Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
It would be difficult to script a better start for the new era of Los Angeles Clippers basketball than Tuesday’s outcome.
The Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 116-109 in their season opener at Staples Center in head coach Ty Lue’s first game in his new position. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led the way for the victors, who played spoiler to the Purple and Gold on the same night they celebrated last season’s championship.
LeBron James spearheaded the losing effort for the Lakers, who split their four games against the Clippers last season.
Notable Player Stats
- Paul George, F, LAC: 33 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 13-of-18 FG, 5-of-8 3PT
- Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 26 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL
- Serge Ibaka, C, LAC: 15 PTS, 6 REB
- LeBron James, F, LAL: 22 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 18 PTS, 7 REB
- Dennis Schroder, G, LAL: 14 PTS, 12 REB, 8 AST
PG-13 Earns Some Redemption, Leads Clips to Win
It may not seem entirely fair, but the Clippers are going to be defined by last season’s postseason failure until they can change the narrative in the playoffs.
After all, they were unable to create a highly anticipated Western Conference Finals showdown with the Lakers because they blew a 3-1 lead in the second round to the Denver Nuggets. That cleared the way for the Purple and Gold to reach the NBA Finals without much of a challenge and led to an offseason where the Clippers parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers.
They also revamped the roster, losing Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet and JaMychal Green but bringing in Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard to provide more depth around Leonard and George.
That depth and the length all over the floor was immediately apparent, as the visitors jumped out to a 39-19 lead in the first quarter. Eight different Clippers scored, and the defense swarmed the Lakers’ outside shooters and darted into passing lanes.
All that momentum quickly faded, though, as the Lakers found their rhythm. The Clippers managed only 17 points in the second quarter with Leonard struggling from the field and George dealing with turnover issues.
It seemed like a cruel joke for the Clippers to build a commanding lead just to watch it disappear in the season opener like it did during their playoff collapse against the Nuggets, but George—who was widely criticized for his play in the postseason—had other ideas.
In the final two minutes of the third quarter, he scored an and-1, drilled a pull-up shot in the lane, connected on a three-pointer and hit a mid-range jumper to push the lead back to 11. The resurgence continued in the fourth quarter for the six-time All-Star, who remained aggressive by attacking the lane and firing from outside.
George’s play was a welcome sign for the Clippers considering he was among the biggest culprits for their playoff loss. If he plays like he did down the stretch Tuesday, they will once again be championship contenders.
Lakers Fall Short on Same Night as Ring Ceremony
It’s hard to blame the Lakers if their focus was not exactly on the game at tip-off.
They finished their NBA championship run less than three months ago, had limited rest in a shortened offseason and started the evening by celebrating the title. A regular-season matchup—even against the rival Clippers—just doesn’t have the same stakes as the last time they were on the main stage.
They started accordingly and fell behind by as many as 22 points.
There would be no blowout on ring night, as James connected on multiple shots from the outside, Anthony Davis attacked on the blocks, Harrell provided a spark off the bench against his former team and Dennis Schroder stuffed the stat sheet on his new squad.
It was somewhat of a worrisome sign for the Clippers and the entire league that the Lakers seemed to be going through the motions and were still within a single point by the third quarter when LeBron unleashed a monster dunk and drilled a deep three.
Taking on a fully engaged Lakers with a more robust supporting cast with Harrell, Schroder and Marc Gasol will be quite the daunting task come playoff time, and they hinted at that potential for stretches while chipping away at the lead.
Still, all the Lakers provided was hints, as James turned his ankle in the fourth quarter and the home team couldn’t match the Clippers’ energy.
At least the Lakers can take solace knowing they started last season with a loss to their Los Angeles rivals as well. Things still turned out pretty well for them.
Both teams are in action Friday when the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks and the Clippers are at the Denver Nuggets.